The Former Fat Boy Syndrome

I must admit I am a FFB (Former Fat Boy).  I am willing to bet many of the guys reading this were FFB’s.  As a FFB I know we tend to think our metabolisms are subpar or we can’t build muscle efficiently due to our endomorphic proportions.  This is what’s known as the FFBS (former fat boy syndrome).  I say this is bullhonkey (nice attempt at swearing I know).  The sad truth is being a former fat boy may even be worse on the psyche than starting out as a skinny bastard (as Joe DeFranco would say).  My goal today is to reach out to all the FFB’s and offer some encouragement, hope and a swift kick in the ass.

What is a Former Fat Boy?

A FFB is what the name implies: someone who used to be fat or they could still be slightly on the chubby side (think of the big powerlifter who eats a bit too much).  This is not a blanket statement as there are always exceptions but in my experience many of the bigger, younger guys in the gym have a history of being a part of the FFB club.  Then again I see guys that are still chubby and lack any muscular development whatsoever.

I grew up eating bologna and cheese sammiches (I meant to do that) and this is what turned me into a fat boy.  Once I got into athletics I turned into a husky boy and eventually graduated to a FFB.  It was an interesting experience to say the least and I learned a lot from being the fat kid growing up.

Now that we know what a FFB is, let’s get into the darker corners of the minds of these unique souls.

A Mess of Mental Hang-ups

Since you are here, I would argue that you are likely interested in changing your body composition for the better (or maybe you’re here for some lame humor?).  You are likely interested in looking great naked and thus being proud of what you have accomplished aesthetically.  One of the biggest issues I face when dealing with clients or when helping out on the forums are FFB’s who long for a bigger, stronger, leaner physique who are not willing to do what it takes to achieve it.  Now this is not because they are uneducated, stupid or unwilling.  It’s because they have this innate fear of returning to their former fatty self.

These are usually the guys who have worked really hard on a fat loss diet with lots of cardio for many months to drop a ton of weight.  They are so excited about losing the extra fluff and now want to build their physique but their own fear sabotages them from taking the necessary steps to achieve their lofty goals.  They first learn they must EAT MORE and GAIN WEIGHT to build muscle.  They are so scared of ballooning up that they end up spinning their wheels for months and years before seeing the light or just giving up altogether.

The Dreadful Origins

A FFB gets on a popular bodybuilding forum, spends lot of time lurking and learning the fundamentals of building a killer physique.  He is equipped with more than enough knowledge to propel him for the time being.  He knows he must train sensibly; he even picked up a copy of Starting Strength.  He has taken his time to learn about how important adequate protein intake is and ensures he is eating a healthy dose of fruits and veggies daily.  He has mapped out his plan and proceeds to track his progress along the way.  His plan is bulletproof and he cannot wait to start.

The first few weeks are underway and he’s getting a feel for the movements.  He starts to develop a love/hate relationship with DOMS and is enjoying the consistent strength gains.  He is reluctant to meet his caloric goals daily because he knows eating over maintenance will cause weight gain but he is committed to remain faithful to his goals.

After the fourth week has passed he is up about 5-6lbs and he is bloated from an outing with friends the night before.  He decided to drink a few beers and have some bar food high in sodium(responsible for the bloat).  He hates what he sees in the mirror that morning and he starts to really second guess his previous weeks efforts.  He has this dreaded fear of becoming who he used to be.  Later that day, a decision is made to go on a short diet consisting of only two weeks max and then he will go back to his regular training and over feeding.

The Cycle Begins

So now that he’s been on a diet for the last two weeks, the water has dropped and the end result is only about a net gain of 1-2lbs.  He actually kind of likes what he sees in the mirror again and decides to immediately go back to his previous muscle building plan.  However this time, he decides to cut his surplus calories in half and utilize a slower approach this time around.  Subconsciously, he doesn’t want to repeat his last mistake of gaining too quickly so he starts to increase his activity outside of training.  He now walks to the store instead of driving.  He parks further away from campus to get some extra walking in.  Guess what happens; his supposed caloric surplus has now become his maintenance intake.

Eight more weeks go by and progress is slowing down. He is worn out, depressed and experiencing the general shitty feelings that come along as a result of not eating enough coupled with too much activity.  In the name of progress he decides to increase his calories again but reverts back to a fat loss diet after another water retention mishap.  He woke up bloated from eating too much birthday cake and decided he hates life.  Time to diet.

As you might imagine this cycle goes on and on and on.  It seems that it will never end.  I have concluded this is likely one of the number one reasons most guys quit and give up.  They just decide their goals are impossible to reach; therefore it’s easier to just pick another hobby.

Is There A Solution?

Sure there is.  There’s always a solution; however that solution may not always be the one you want.

The solution is time + consistent effort towards one goal = success.

There’s really not much more to it.  The only reason my previous FFB example did not succeed is because he wasn’t objective enough to set a goal and work towards it with 100% focus and effort.  He kept swaying back and forth because his emotions about how he viewed himself were stronger than what he wanted for the long term.

The truth is when you want to build your ideal physique you must have clear goals and be willing to do what it takes to achieve them.  You must realize you can’t stay super lean all the time and build serious mass at the same time.  Either you accept some fat gain and get to work or you keep going back and forth between bulking and dieting cycles only to spin your wheels for years.

Something you must realize is when you constantly switch between hypercaloric and hypocaloric states your body is never really primed to gain much mass.  The hormonal environment is never stable enough to make any appreciable gains.  This is why so many guys remain skinny-fat because they never make a decision to train and gain weight consistently (for at least 12 weeks at a time).  Instead they spin their wheels into oblivion.

Now before any assumptions are made, I am not suggesting you make a whale out of yourself in the name of building the most mass.  It’s not fun to be super fat and dieting it all off takes a long time.  Don’t let your body fat get out of hand but don’t let a little water retention and temporary loss of your abs deter you from working toward your ultimate goals.

A Few Tips for all the FFB’s

If you follow this criteria, remain objective and work aggressively toward your goals you are sure to succeed.

  • Decide you are going to gain weight and strength consistently – no excuses.
  • Give yourself a time frame (12+ weeks) to make specific gains in strength and performance.
  • Forget about maintaining a full row of abs.  Fat can always be lost and you will always look much better with more muscle anyway.
  • Girls aren’t as interested as we are about being lean.  They really don’t care that much as long as you don’t become a slob.  Charm is more important in this regard.
  • Hire a coach if you cannot be objective and hold yourself accountable to your goals.

There you go, now you know my no-BS approach when it comes to all the mental hang-ups us FFB’s deal with.

October 10, 2009

  • Josh April 12, 2013

    Awesome post JC! I really appreciate what you’re doing here. I listened to your discussion with Scott Tousignant and Shawn Phillips yesterday, which led me here in a roundabout way.
    I’m a former fatty (280 to 190) who has been running into the problems with my diet that this article addresses for at least 6 months, spending hours in the gym and noticing little to no noticeable changed in my physique. You’ve inspired me to stop messing around and try eating at 15*bodyweight for a while, instead of my usual 500 calorie deficit.
    Thanks again, and good luck with your website and goals. I’ll send a few recommendations out to friends if it helps.

  • Matthew January 20, 2013

    Hi JC, loving your articles lately. I am posting to ask you a question.
    I am not a foremer fat boy, as I have never been really big all my life, I have been skinny-fat the majority of my life. At 5’11-6’0 and 154lbs, I think its fair to say I need to gain a considerable amount of muscle and strength. It’s not like i’m not on the right track though. Deadlifted 110kg yesterday for 5. I dont fuck around at all with machines etc…
    My question is how can I gain muscle while sprinting 2x a week. I am at school, and with this and sprinting I am only able to lift 2x a week or end up doing more harm than good, so have made these full body days. I sprint for sport, I want my performance to improve, but you have said in a previous comment I think that chasing two goals at once will lead nowhere. I kinda have no choice whether to sprint train though, because for my PE course part on my grade is judged on my performance. Help me out, please man.

    • JC Deen January 23, 2013

      you can still get big and strong while sprinting, you just need to train well on the days you’re lifting, and eat well to support those goals

  • Pat July 04, 2012

    I have these FFB problems very frequently, because I used to weigh 250 lbs. Thankfully, to force me to let go of the fears, I started a fitness log on Something Awful, in which I forced myself to eat at least a certain amount of calories on workout/rest days, and I said that I would post a video of me eating some food that I found disgusting if I didn’t eat this amount. That has kept me eating enough!

    • JC Deen July 04, 2012

      good for you

  • Russell June 29, 2012

    This was a much needed article. I really let go of my eating recently and as a result saw massive strength gains as well as got positive comments about how muscular I’m getting (granted I can’t see it in the mirror). Despite all this I was getting ready to cut hard and lose as much weight as possible as I was feeling clothes start to fit tight. This article has helped me come to terms with my hang ups about eating.

    • JC Deen June 29, 2012

      awesome. I wrote it for guys like yourself. I’ve been there too!

  • Tom November 19, 2011

    Hey, good post.

    I’m 5’11, used to be ~250 lbs, and I’m down to a lean 155 lbs. I found it funny for a while, getting called “skinny” by girls, but I’m past the humor. (For an ex fat guy, it takes quite a while to stop finding it funny…actually, no…its still funny, lol.) I’m supposedly around 8% body fat.

    Anyway, I’m wanting to ‘get big’ now, so I’m aiming to put on 40 lbs in the next year. That means, hit 195 lbs. But the other thing is, I want to spend a lot of time on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and hit purple belt.

    I know I could just pick one goal and put all my energy into that, which I suspect I should do (though THAT thought is a bit worrisome to me heh…odd…).

    What do you think? Getting big while also expending lots of energy with my other sport? Maybe its rationalizing but is it possible the extra energy expenditure from the BJJ will be a good countermeasure to make sure I don’t gain quite as much fat?

    Thanks for any thoughts

    • JC Deen November 19, 2011

      What do you think? Getting big while also expending lots of energy with my other sport? Maybe its rationalizing but is it possible the extra energy expenditure from the BJJ will be a good countermeasure to make sure I don’t gain quite as much fat?

      I think this is a bad idea. Most MMA training is intense and requires a lot of energy and will zap your recovery. If you want to get bigger and stronger, then build your schedule around that. Chasing both of these goals simultaneously is likely to leave you the same size and more frustrated at the end of an unproductive year.

  • Scott October 22, 2011

    Wow. I’m not the only one who has this problem??? This is actually very eye-opening to me. My story: I am a FFB. In college, a little more than a year and a half ago, I weighed 225 pounds at 5’9-10″. I took time off from school to look for work, and in that time, I got away from the dorm food, the bane of my existence, meticulously recorded everything I ate, and ran everyday I could. In those efforts up to this day, I have lost over 80 pounds. Now I sit at 142 pounds. Lots of people now tell me how amazing I look these days. I’m very cardio-conditioned; my resting pulse is only about 55! I’m skinny-fat though. And sadly, I suffer from this syndrome. I’ve been trying to incorporate weight lifting into my routine, but every time I see numbers go up on the scale, I panic and try to atone for my “egregious sins” of consuming too many calories or, heaven forbid, too many carbs. I know that food energy and protein is essential for building muscle, and that the excessive cardio is interfering with the muscle building efforts. I want to gain muscle and strength, yes, but I also want a nice toned appearance. I’m nervous to start bulking because I still have what I feel like is a decent amount of body fat, if i had to guess, probably around 18 to 20%. I have a belly still, so still very far off from having visible abs. To pile any more fat on top of that already I feel like would be detrimental to my progress. But you seem to know what you’re doing. I need to let go and just give myself 12 weeks of lean mass building. I’m gonna keep reading.

    • JC Deen October 22, 2011

      Alright Scott, at that height and weight, I doubt you have any appreciable amounts of fat on you – you simply have no muscle. I think some muscle building is definitely in order.

      And I understand your fear – I remember about 2-3 years ago when I was sick (read my story), I was about 150lbs, weak, and felt awful about my appearance. However, I had to do what I knew I was supposed to, take responsibility and do what it took to built my physique back up to what it is now.

      I too had those fears and worries, but you know what? I’m pumped I did what it took.

  • G July 01, 2010

    I would like to add a piece of experiential info. Keep in mind this has been based on a sample size of 1 (me!). Say you do feel bloated one morning and are second guessing the bulk. Do this:
    - Drink a coffee/tea (anything with caffeine)
    - Take a sugar-free electrolyte powder (Powerade zero works great)

    Then go for a relaxing walk until you gotta pee. It takes me about an hour to ‘clear the bloat’

    • JC July 01, 2010

      hmm, thanks for the info. I’ve never heard of doing such a thing but I’ll definitely try it out sometime.

  • egoaudio March 04, 2010


    I sure am glad that I stumbled across your website. And especially this article. I’ve been a FFB for about 8 years now and have hovered around “skinny fat” for a good deal of time. Having lifted weight out for the last two years I figured I must be doing something fundamentally wrong since I hadn’t noticed much of a change. But I still didn’t know what it could be. I figured my rep/set combo was holding me back. Boy was I wrong.

    About two months ago I noticed myself gaining some serious muscle on my chest and arms after deciding to eat a little more. Then one morning I felt a little ‘extra chub’ and decided I should cut back on my diet so that I would feel good and lose the fat. Obviously I hadn’t realized that the only change responsible for my recent muscle growth was my increase in calories.

    Anyway, long story short, I have decided to accept some fat gain on my current workout block. Calories are up from 3000 to 3500 and I’m already feeling different!

    Thanks again JC!

    • JC March 04, 2010

      Good deal. Just remember that a modest amount of fat gain is acceptable. Of course, you don’t want to lose control but you can always lose fat later.

      Glad I could be of some help, sir.

  • Youngbuck February 18, 2010

    Great Read JC!

    I am definitely a former fat boy, and go through exactly what you’re talking about! I used to weigh 270 but after a year of serious dieting I got down to 198. Since then, I have hovered around 210 (6’3″ so not horrible) but seriously want to build up muscle. Unfortunately, I am always worried that I am prone to rapid weight gain because I was always overweight. Is there validity behind this? I feel that I was proned to being overweight(the men on my mom’s side are rather large) but it was also do to terrible eating habits. I have a pretty good grasp on nutrition but should FBB’s be more self-aware during bulking because of a set predisposition to extra fat?

    • Youngbuck February 18, 2010

      fyi: have kept the weight off for over a year and half with some slight setbacks.

      • JC February 18, 2010

        the only concern I see is simply returning to your old habits.

        as long as your diet is kept in check, you train and sleep well, you won’t have to ever worry about returning to your old self.

        The only time I’d be worried about gaining back an abnormal amount of fat is if you dieted to a really low body fat way below your setpoint.

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